Recently I had to chance to talk to filmmaker Cade Thomas about his film Ribbon; see my review of it up on my site now. In the interview we talk about the death of capitalism, the effects of consumer culture and finding the humour in the day to day; to break up the cycle of buying and selling.
Q: What is the message of this film?
A: I have heard people say they feel the film is saying different things and most of what I have heard was intentional. Most people say it’s a film about growing up and learning to be open to new experiences. That is certainly one of the film’s themes, perhaps the most blatant. However, embedded in this comedy film are themes about the death of capitalism, mistrust between the classes, consumerism’s lack of care, and finding balance amongst extreme philosophies – while also having a meta-reading as an allegory for my own filmmaking journey. However, I always viewed these themes and messages as treats for more critical audience members and never wanted it to distract from telling an engaging, often comedic story that everyone could enjoy. My film is a comedy, no matter how pretentious I sound when talking about it.
Q: How much can it be read as a swipe at modern consumer and capitalist culture?
A: When toying around the idea for this film in my head, the most interesting aspect of it was what it was saying about our modern consumer and capitalist culture. The film’s main set piece is the town’s dying mall – which symbolizes the death throes of late-stage capitalism and its impact on American cities. The film is so littered with company names and logos that they are almost inescapable in the film. (Fun drinking game: Take a shot every time a company is mentioned by name or a logo appears somewhere onscreen.) Our nightmare is inescapable. We work all-day and get sold things all-night. But, did you see the new dog mascot?
Q: If you had to describe your film in a word, what would it be?
Q: Who is your filmmaking inspiration?
A: I enjoy a wide variety of filmmakers. I love the films of David Robert Mitchell and look forward to whatever insane films he makes next. I would say RIBBON owes a lot to the works of Alexander Payne and Richard Linklater.
Q: Does your film aim to shed new light on how modern corporate culture is effecting the every person?
A: I hope to show the viewpoint of a new generation becoming “working age” and not wanting to turn out like the generations before them have. The oldest members of Gen Z are entering the workforce and we haven’t seen that in film yet. In many ways, this film is a Gen Z vs. Millennial movie between the two sibling protagonists. I also hope the film says something about class. Our protagonists, Maggie and Michael, are firmly middle-class – while our supporting characters are a homeless woman and a new CEO who essentially inherited the role from his dead father. The key friction of the film is how each character views the world they are in and their fundamental distrust of the others based almost entirely on their class.
Q: Where is the line between making a point and comedic satire for you? Where did you draw the line?
A: To make the joke? Or not make the joke? The number one thought in my head at all times. If I can make a joke while making a point, then I don’t question it. A joke for a joke’s sake will have to be a pretty funny joke for me to include it. I would say most of the jokes in RIBBON have a deeper meaning to the story, themes, or characters – whether that clear upon first viewing or not. One of the jokes that always seems to get a laugh is “Olive Garden joke” during the climax of the movie. Sure, it’s funny because it’s making fun of Olive Garden, but that’s not the only reason I put that joke there. To me, it’s humorous because it’s an advertisement playing over our protagonist’s darkest moment. Maggie is literally crying because her entire worldview has come crashing down as she is being shoved on stage to dance for her chance to win money – all while a chipper cross-promotional advertisement plays that practically begs people to care about the mall again and tells you how to save money when you buy at Olive Garden. It’s easy to dismiss comedies, because of how disposable many mainstream movies have been in recent decades. On the other side though, a film can’t be too preachy to the point that it alienates the audience. There’s a middle ground. And that middle ground is Olive Garden.
Q: What was important for you when considering how to form your characters?
A: I start with trying to come up with interesting relationships, then create opposing traits that would make the characters good foils of one another. From that, you fill in the character more – their desires, their fears, etc. I was very interested in telling a story with dual protagonists on opposing character arcs. That ended up informing other aspects of the film. Direct opposites and parallels became a recurring convention in the screenplay.
Q: If you could go back in time to when you were first starting out as a filmmaker what advice would you give yourself?
A: Find people who are as interested as you in filmmaking. And never stop creating things.
Q: Future plans and projects?
A: I have a few different projects coming up!
Stay tuned to my YouTube channel: youtube.com/CadeThomas
That’s where I’ll be posting all the things I make – whether that’s short comedy ideas, commentary videos, documentaries, or feature-length films.
Q: Any funny on set stories?
A: The cast and crew had a lot of fun making this film. We all became closer friends making this project. When making an ultra-low budget movie, you have to improvise a lot and learn to roll with the punches. We filmed the jail scene on what seemed like the coldest day of the year, but I asked my actors not to appear cold onscreen as to not distract the audience. We took multiple breaks to run to the car to warm up and had to reset between each angle. Ultimately, you really can’t tell that the actors were dying of hypothermia, which should have won them an award.
If you want to see other examples of the fun we had on set, you can watch RIBBON’s Blooper Reel which is also on my YouTube channel.
If you want to check out the film head over to youtube.com/CadeThomas
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